My mother taught me
How to press flowers
Into heavy hardbound
She carried those textbooks like armor
A shield against my father's
She blossomed in college
Found her place there
Among Dusty library shelves
Buried in research
Learning all she could
Making friends who spoke her mother tongue.
Spanish would lead her to her freedom, she tucked it under her battered wings
And held it dear
A never ceasing gift
From the island she was born on.
And her handstitched quilt
Pieced together by her own Cuban mother
Spread out over the sharp and itchy blades of summer green grass
Burnt orange and yellow-gold cordouroy fabrics forced together in tiny squares of dizzying patterns.
Just like my parents
Forced together by their own desperate need to be loved by someone, anyone, at any cost, regardless of whether they fit or not. Did their individual pieces create a loving whole?
And they smashed into each other often
Struggling for power and control
We were part of the games
Tugged and shoved and pushed and loved and punished for the way we carried their genes.
We wore the expressions, mannerisms and skin of them
And reminded them of each other.
We were punished accordingly, though our genetics were not our fault-
and it took many years to realize we were resented because we resembled replicas of the people they once loved...each other.
I wore the mask of my father's mistakes and so, my mother assumed I was his copy.
I was not.
I was good and kind and timid and loving. I was sweet and gentle and honest to a fault- even if it meant my body would be welted by that thick, black leather belt or raised red with the shape of my mother's tiny angry hands.
It confused me for so many years. I was confounded as to why she hated me so much even as she professed her maternal love in front of others. Her surprising hugs that startled me in public as she gloated to strangers how I was her favorite child and how much talent I had. I must have betrayed her ruse, as I flinched when her arms came towards me and my eyes widened with shock as she told them what a perfect daughter I had always been. This was the most surprising thing I had ever heard from her usually pursed lips. Her familiar scowl of anger, the grating tone of hatred and disgust carried by her voice, completely vanished. Then there was this soft, kind spoken, inauthentic high pitched avalanche of compliments hurled around me. Such confusion for me. This dichotomy.
And yet I remember her happy for moments...anytime we were on campus. Me dragged from class to class, sitting quietly outside the room, in the sunlight with a paper Dixie cup scooping fast guppy fish from a small fountain in the courtyard. I sat obediently. It felt like a whole day. I was so bored but I knew better than to speak it. I would have been accused of trying to ruin all her plans for an education. But each time she screamed at me; she was really screaming at him; my father. I was an innocent casualty of marital war.
And yet, her gentle and real tone was only in the very early years of my life...on that quilt. As she pointed to beautiful and strange violet-white flowers that fell from the tree and twisted in spirals to the grass around us. A summertime breeze of perfect temperature filled our noses with a too sweet, burning floral scent.
And I ran here and there, wherever she would point her delicate fingers and collected these strange flowers for her. I ran them to her in my cupped child hands; hoping she would be satisfied. She would open a heavy book that smelled of hope and freedom, placing it between the stiff pages filled with yellow highlighted text. She closed the book and held it tightly. She pressed it down hard the way she did to me my whole life, the way my father did to her. And we both hoped we would find those flowers someday, beautifully preserved by the weight of our love.